Thursday, June 23, 2005

Burn A Flag, Go To Jail

"America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."

-- "The American President" (1995)
With the House of Representatives voting yesterday to amend the constitution to make desecrating the American flag a crime, Democrats once again find themselves on the side of the argument that's more righteous, but harder to explain to many citizens.

The presidential character played by Michael Douglas in 'The American President' made the point that we need to make right now in a very compelling way and one that cut to the heart of the issue: That a country where burning the flag can get you prosecuted, is most assuredly not a nation celebrating freedom.

But with every other car sporting an insipid "God Bless America" sticker and with any dissent increasingly easy to label as unpatriotic, it's a tough argument to make to average Americans – many of whom seem to understand so little about the values that our country is actually supposed to embody.

I'm distressed that 77 House Democrats voted in support of this legislation and can only hope that Republicans cannot muster enough wrong-thinking Democrats to get the two-thirds majority this nonsense needs to get through the Senate.

But we need to find a simple way to articulate -- in sound-bite fashion -- that jailing people for dissent moves us close to China and the former Soviet Union and farther away from the society most Americans want.

Do we need to elect Michael Douglas or do we have a Democratic leader who can get the job done?